Saturday, January 31, 2015

Michelle the Magnificent

I love, love, love Michelle Obama...

This outfit for her visit to Saudi Arabia is so beautiful, dramatic, colorful, strategically chosen.

She's covering arms and legs but not her head--and the bright blue with black and white in an African pattern guarantees all eyes will be on her.

Go Michelle!  

And on your next trip, if you could just get behind a steering wheel...

I'm sorry we have only two more years to enjoy her being in the limelight.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Remembering Auschwitz

It was good to attend my Intermediate Hebrew class tonight at American Jewish University in Los Angeles and be with my peeps on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

My peeps, not because I am ethnically Jewish (I'm not) but because Je Suis Charlie, I am Michael Brown, Jewish Lives Matter, and so on.

The subject did not come up during class, but this day was well marked by the media.

Our teacher's parents were holocaust survivors who lost many family members.  I have heard her tell their story--no need to repeat it today.

The best news report I heard today was an interview with Jack Mandelbaum on NPR's All Things Considered.

It's important to read or hear a survivor's story today, 70 years after Soviet soldiers entered Auschwitz and freed those who were still alive.  Persons who can speak of first-hand experience in concentration camps are dwindling in numbers.

This is how NPR's report by Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson begins:

Some 300 Holocaust survivors were at Auschwitz on Tuesday, along with several European presidents and other government officials, to honor at least 1.1 million people who were murdered, 1 million of whom were Jewish.
Among those killed there were Jack Mandelbaum's mother and brother. The Polish-born Mandelbaum survived, spared at the last minute by an officer of the dreaded SS who yanked the teen away from his family and sent him instead to a forced labor camp....
Each year on January 27 may we all remember those who suffered in concentration camps during the 1930's and '40s.

May all of us who identify as Christians remember that our savior was Jewish, and may we study to recover the Jewish roots of our faith.

A Pope for All People

Pope Francis continues to amaze us with his commitment to dialogue with all kinds of humans on this earth:

  • Gays and lesbians
  • Transgender people
  • Jews
  • Muslims
  • Divorced and remarried Catholics

"Who am I to judge?" continues to be his theme.  In July 2013 he gave this answer to a reporter asking for his position on gay/lesbian issues.

At a Vatican synod last fall, he asked for dialogue about the Church's position on various sexual issues, including divorced and remarried Catholics.

So far he has steered clear of all questions about women's ordination, but stay tuned.

With this pope, anything could happen.

I'm sticking with my prediction that women will regularly be ordained as priests within the Roman Catholic Church by 2050.

Pope for Trannies, too

This pope breaks new ground every day, partly because so many areas have been left untouched over the years.

Thank you to Pope Francis for granting a private audience to a transgender man from Spain, also a former member of a religious community who ousted him after his transition.

Diego Neria Lej√°rraga, who underwent sex-reassignment surgery and was subsequently rejected by his religious community, claims he reached out to Pope Francis in December and received a call from the pontiff on Christmas Eve, Spanish newspaper Hoy reported. On Saturday, Lej√°rraga and his fiancee told the paper they met with Pope Francis in his residence at the Vatican.

This pope is fearless.  He apparently wanted to give a pastoral voice to Diego and to learn about this issue first-hand.

Those surrounding the pope are not fearless, however.  No comment or verification from the Vatican.

Thank you also to Huffington Post and Religious News Service for this report.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Skorka Visits Los Angeles

Rabbi Abraham Skorka visited Los Angeles on January 22-25 for the Fourth Annual Hispanic Theology and Ministry Lecture: Chasing Peace at Loyola Marymount University.  

The event was also sponsored by Masorti Olami and the Martin Gang Institute for Intergroup Relations.

Rabbi Skorka also led Torah study at Valley Beth Shalom temple in the San Fernando Valley and met for a public dialogue with the Archbishop of Los Angeles, Jose Gomez.

Rabbi Skorka is a close friend of Pope Francis.  They participated in an interreligious dialogue in Buenos Aires when the pope was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio.  On Heaven and Earth was first published in Argentina in 2010.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Not a Headline

Underneath the big headlines about the massacre of twelve people in Paris at Charlie Hepdo, I saw:

Bodies, severed heads found in Guerrero state.

Four black plastic bags containing 11 heads were found this week, according to the short article (not available in the online edition).

Presumably these heads match the 11 headless bodies found last November in the same area.  

The town where they were found is Chilapa de Alvarez, not far from where the 43 students were found in Iguala, Guerrero, last August.

The world's horrors continue, unabated.

Here's the challenge: to focus on God's presence, God's energy in creating and sustaining the Earth and the universe, to give the Creator's love to those we meet. 

Don't be vexed by evildoers...

A little while longer, and the violent will be no more....

But the gentle will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant peace.

           --Psalm 37

Teaching Extremists a Lesson

These Parisian terrorists appear to be fairly ignorant about the historical person, Mohammad.

#1  The teaching that Mohammad himself should not be pictured was instituted to prevent idolatry--to prevent people from worshiping statues and paintings of him.

It was not to prevent unflattering depictions of the prophet.

#2 Mohammad was insulted plentifully in his own lifetime by his opponents, primarily those who worshipped local and tribal gods and did not want his monotheism to take hold.

He spent years teaching that insults and violence should not be met with violence.  Later in life he did permit military battles between his followers and the established religions.

Those who claim to be "avenging Mohammad" really do not know much about him or his teachings.

Yes, several 'ahadith forbid visual representation of the prophet.  The goal, however, was to preserve monotheism.

Thank you to the Los Angeles Times and reporter Nigel Duara for reporting in detail about the work of Charlie Hepdo, including editor Stephane Charbonnier's awareness of the hadiths against visual representation.

What a sad quote by Charbonnier to the LA Times in 2013, as reported in this article:

"It just so happens I'm more likely to get run over by a bicycle in Paris than get assassinated."

Steve Benson, a Pulitzer-prize winning cartoonist for the Arizona Republic, states later in the piece that Charlie Hebdo and other journals are on the front lines of conflict over the right to free speech.

"Art is not done to decorate apartments, but to wage war against the enemy," he said "paraphrasing Picasso."  Art is a "trench soldier" in the battle for free speech.

Ideas Strike Fear into Terrorists

"Terrorism really doesn't strike at physical structures as much as it strikes at ideas, and its main fear is ideas."

Jack Ohman, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, made this observation to reporters for the Los Angeles Times yeseterday after the attack on offices of Charlie Hepdo in Paris.

The world of abstract ideas often feels less important than rocket science, engineering, and multinational corporations, to name just a few other areas of human endeavor.

As a professor teaching religious studies, I often feel that my attempts to help students understand Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and gender politics within these religions are either futile or unimportant or both.  

IMPORTANT rating goes to things like the world economy, the fight against ebola, and making peace in the Middle East, right?  

This murder of twelve persons producing a satirical magazine reminds us that ideas are important.

In fact, the main goal of some terrorists is simply to extinguish ideas.  People die for ideas, whether these concepts be mistaken or not.  The American war on Viet Nam was based on the belief that another Communist country in Asia would be harmful to US interests.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me?  

These Paris terrorists beg to differ.  They are taking lives and losing their own over cartoons with words.